Tramel Raggs of SB Nation’s Missouri site Rock M Nation was kind enough to answer a few questions about UConn’s upcoming matchup with the Tigers. We also have some additional thoughts from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly below the Q&A.
1) This season has not really gone according to plan for Missouri, what's going wrong?
The most glaring and obvious reason for Missouri’s struggles is the defense’s performance. Whether it’s talent or scheme, the Tigers have been unable to get off the field versus anyone outside of South Carolina and Idaho. They allowed a lower-tier FCS team (Missouri State) to rack up 492 yards while scoring 43 points.
2) What are the strengths and weaknesses of the offense?
Without question, Missouri’s strength is the deep ball. Regardless of the opponent, Missouri’s tight ends and wide receivers have consistently shown the ability to get behind their opponents secondary.
Missouri’s strength is also their weakness. The offense is boom or bust. If they can’t connect on the deep ball the Tigers are usually in for a rough day. ie: South Carolina, Purdue, and Auburn. Mizzou has yet to show that they can nickel and dime the ball down the field. A large part of that has to do with Drew Lock, which I’ll get into more later.
3) How about the defense?
If the defense has a strength it would probably be the run defense. It would take three pages to list the weaknesses of the defenses, but the biggest probably have something to do with their ability to defend the pass plays especially on third down.
Missouri’s pass defense is like the famous, “which came first the chicken or the egg” question. But in this case, fans are asking if the pass defense is poor because of the lack of pressure by the defensive line or the secondary’s inability to defend power 5 conference receivers. It appears that the issue goes hand in hand.
Last week versus Idaho, Missouri added a new third down scheme that was very successful. Time will tell whether Missouri has figured things out or it was a case of the Tigers feasting on an inferior opponent
4) We had a chance to see QB Drew Lock a little two years ago, how has he developed since?
Drew Lock hasn’t developed into the QB that many expected. When Lock arrived on campus he was touted as the next great NFL QB but his career completion rating is 53.3%.
Lock has put up huge numbers versus lesser opponents and struggled versus the big boys. The low completion percentage can be linked to his touch or lack thereof on the short to intermediate routes.
When the deep ball is clicking Drew Lock looks like an all-time great, but when it isn’t Lock looks more like JaMarcus Russell, unfortunately.
5) What's your prediction for this game?
Missouri will beat UConn, but it’ll be closer than it should be. I’ll go with 37-24 Tigers
Bill Connelly, one of the best college football writers in the country, and the best at marrying statistical analysis with on-field observation, offered some more info on what to expect in Saturday’s matchup.
“UConn ranks 114th in Passing S&P+ and 110th in standard downs success rate. Opponents, knowing they don't have to run the ball, don't really even try to — UConn faces a run rate of 48 percent on standard downs (125th in FBS) and 26 percent on passing downs (123rd)”
But he does see enough reason to have doubts it will be so simple for the Tigers:
...it does bear mentioning that UConn did one hell of a bend-don't-break job against Tulsa last week. The Huskies allowed 6.3 yards per play against the Golden Hurricane — which run their own version of the Baylor defense, not too many strands of DNA away from Josh Heupel's — and eight of 12 TU drives ended in UConn territory. But the Huskies still allowed just 14 points; they picked off a pass, forced two punts, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs.
Connelly did offer praise for the defensive front as a potential key to an upset effort:
“The front is still a relative strength. UConn ranks 68th in rushing success rate, 41st in power success rate, and 59th in Adj. Sack Rate... if the Huskies pull a home upset on Saturday evening, it's likely because the defensive line was able to hold its own, slow the Mizzou run game, and force some mistakes.”
For the matchup on the other side of the ball, Connelly sees the Huskies turning this one into a shootout, and offered praise for the hire of Rhett Lashlee:
The results so far have been intriguing. The Huskies are indeed playing with a higher tempo — UConn ranks 27th in my Adjusted Pace measure after ranking 110th last year — and have nearly doubled their scoring average from a ghastly 14.8 to a far more manageable 27.1. Their Off. S&P+ ranking has gone from 127th to 60th.
This isn’t a good offense yet, mind you. UConn has figured out how to pass the ball much better but can’t run it yet. But you don’t necessarily have to have a good offense to move the ball on Missouri. And Missouri’s pass defense will likely determine whether this is a steady, easy Tiger win or a dogfight.
He also had mostly good things to say about Bryant Shirreffs.
The senior has been steady and exciting, completing 68 percent of his passes with a better than 3-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. He takes far too many sacks, both because of a shuffled offensive line and the simple fact that he doesn’t throw the ball quickly enough sometimes.
But thinks Missouri will prevail
S&P+ says this game will be a little bit closer than the spread says, something in the neighborhood of a 38-31 win. Honestly, I’ll be surprised if Mizzou scores under 40, but there’s certainly a chance that UConn keeps up for quite a while on the scoreboard. It will all depend on the pass defense.